With international duty in full swing, reports of muscle injuries to Jordan Henderson and Andy Robertson — alongside Mohamed Salah’s positive COVID-19 test results — have further diminished a Liverpool squad smarting from the loss of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil Van Dijk.
Despite the doom and gloom, however, it’s unclear exactly how many players will be unavailable. Robertson and Henderson might yet feature again for their national teams this week, as it’s likely international managers are treating players with some caution given the demanding schedule. Salah, too, has not been confirmed as unavailable for the weekend’s clash, though he could remain in isolation until after the fixture.
This is not to diminish the very real injury crisis the Reds have faced, which has unfortunately concentrated on a single position group: the defense (or even the back five if you think back to Alisson’s early-season injury). With Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk out for extended periods, and Joël Matip’s fitness limiting his minutes, manager Jürgen Klopp will have to be creative with his lineup choices in the coming weeks.
It is very possible that Fabinho will return to partner Matip at the weekend, but the centerback pairing could well remain in flux in coming weeks to manage Matip’s fitness over time. As such, Reds fans will probably see some minutes for youth squad players in coming weeks — not always a bad thing, as a very similar situation is what first afforded Alexander-Arnold a place in the side, and we all know what level of player he’s turned out to be.
The return of Kostas Tsimikas should help Robertson budget minutes at left back, but the injury to Alexander-Arnold comes without a ready-made first team stand-in, and youngster Neco Williams will look to get more first team minutes (though it’s possible that veteran James Milner might do another stint at fullback, especially in challenging fixtures).
In sum, the back line against Leicester should see two to three changes at the very least, and shifts in the defensive line will likely become routine over the coming weeks.
Leicester City, too, have very long injury list at the moment, and while their woes are not equal to those Klopp is currently dealing with, manager Brendan Rodgers has his own depth issues to combat — and these issues are also concentrated in defense.
Though goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was substituted at halftime with a head injury during the Denmark-Iceland match at the weekend, it’s likely the Dane will recover to feature again for his country before returning to England; if his injury is more serious, however, former-Red Danny Ward might just make a start in goal for the Foxes.
Leicester are certain Caglar Soyüncü and Daniel Amartey will not be fit for Sunday’s match, and fullback Timothy Castagne is fighting to return. Soyüncü, Leicester’s reliable center back — who stepped in admirably after the departure of Harry Maguire — is a massive miss for the Foxes, and new-signing Castagne would be as well: the fullback has already become a hub of creativity and defensive solidity in the first third of the 2020/21 season.
Ricardo Pereira, another Leicester fullback, is looking to return to fitness as well, though like Castagne a return as soon as the weekend would be an unexpected and positive surprise for Leicester City fans. Mirroring Liverpool’s international break woes, Wesley Fofana, a new standout at centerback for the Foxes, returned quickly to England following a “small problem” picked up early on with the French U21 side.
Wilfred Ndidi is unavailable, but the rest of the Leicester midfield and attack is fit to face the Reds. As such, expect Jamie Vardy to look for space behind whoever Klopp selects to defend the Foxes on Sunday, linking up with a newly-fit James Maddison in the midfield.
Of course, there are still international fixtures to play, and travel to occur, so even more absences could pile up between now and Sunday.
As the English Champions take on the side currently at the top of the table, squad depth will be tested — as will collective responses to adversity. It’s not impossible that the depleted Reds come out on top in especially the latter category: mentality monsters, after all.